You’ve probably not given too much thought to their ears, unless you’re getting them pierced or covering them up when it’s cold outside. But these complex organs demand some attention and respect. They are able to collect and process sounds and transmit them to the brain for interpretation.
Structures of the Ear
The ear is made up of three sections: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. All three play a unique and important role in the hearing process.
The outer ear, also known as the auricle or pinna, is the external portion visible to others. It is responsible for collecting sound waves and funneling them into the ear canal. Once inside, they are amplified before reaching the eardrum, which vibrates when struck.
The middle ear is made up of the auditory canal and eardrum. Sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, stimulating the ossicles – three small bones consisting of the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup). The stapes is attached to the oval window, a membrane-covered opening that connects the middle and inner ears.
The inner ear contains the cochlea, a structure resembling a snail shell that is divided into three fluid-filled parts. Vibrations from the eardrum stimulate movement of tiny hair cells known as stereocilia, which convert these vibrations into electrical impulses that travel through the auditory nerve to the brain, where they are translated into recognizable sound.
And that is how hearing works! But what causes it not to sometimes?
Why Hearing Loss Occurs
Damage to any of the sections of the ear can result in hearing loss. When this occurs in the outer or middle ear, conductive hearing loss may result. This may be caused by trauma, disease or certain medications. Conductive hearing loss is often temporary and may correctable with surgery or drugs.
Sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve deafness, occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is permanent but usually treatable with hearing aids. Nine out of 10 patients with hearing loss are diagnosed with this type.
Some people experience damage to both the inner and middle or outer ears. This is known as mixed hearing loss.
If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, schedule an appointment with an audiologist at ENT Associates of Worcester.